ri Louie throws porch parties. The schedule varies, but usually on Sundays, they’ll post a handwritten menu on Instagram. And then on Tuesday, people from all over the East Bay flock to their porch in West Oakland to share a home-cooked meal, finding community in helpings of hot food and scratch-made buttermilk biscuits. For Louie, the informal “Porch Party” pop-ups are yet another step in their long journey of feeding people.
In layman’s terms, they say, “I am just your neighbor cooking for you in my kitchen.”
After tasting the fruits of the chef’s labor at several art events in Oakland, I began to recognize Louie as an East Bay staple. Our first chance meeting was at a celebration of queer art at Helvella Art, where Louie plated up crispy pork belly with the perfect level of chewy crunch, and jasmine oat lattes that sang with floral notes and grounded nuttiness. The second was a West Oakland Farmers Market art sale, where they sold “chips ‘n’ fixin’s,” a hearty plate of tortilla chips topped with slow-stewed beans, fresh cotija cheese and a tangy-sweet yogurt slaw to tickle the tastebuds.
For each of these events, Louie’s three-dimensional flavor pairings paid homage to the many different food traditions that allow the Bay Area’s diasporic landscape to thrive. And their presence at art-focused events piqued my interest in how necessary the culinary arts are to feeding our inner artists — and how even mundane tasks can be a vehicle for creative expression.
At home in their kitchen on a recent Tuesday evening, Louie carefully moved pre-prepped ingredients into stir-fries, mixing in oyster sauces, vinegars and salts while a pot of jook simmered nearby. They worked quickly, cutting with precision and trimming scallions into perfect diagonals.
Louie has been cooking for as long as they can remember. Their grandmother owned a classic 1950s Chinese restaurant in the Southern California suburbs. Through that lineage, Louie immersed themselves in a world of restaurant tools, kitchen efficiency and the age-old habit of tasting as you go. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, Louie learned that community was something that thrived in the comfort of a home kitchen — and with the guidance of their father, who was also a talented home cook, they soon became the resident chef for the family’s big parties and annual gatherings.